,KUALA LUMPUR — Learning to tell your elephant ears from your flamingo flowers has become the latest virus lockdown escape in Malaysia, where houseplants are very much in season.rrCollectors are searching out specimens with intricate patterns in a dazzling array of reds, yellows and greens, and sharing their best on social media.rr"It's like looking at a painting," collector Leiister Soon told AFP, admiring the broad-leaf caladium — elephant ear plants — at his Kuala Lumpur home.rr"Taking care of plants meant that I can divert my attention — (it is) better than watching the number of Covid-19 cases going up."rrThe plants are known as "keladi" in the local Malay language, but the trend has grown to encompass other species, such as anthuriums — known as flamingo flower, or laceleaf — and alocasias, whose varieties include the silver dragon.rrOnce relatively cheap, prices surged last year when lockdowns confined Malaysians to their homes, and many collectors started posting images of their favourite plants on social media.rrWhile some still cost as little as RM20 ringgit (S$6.50), the rarest can now fetch up to RM6,000 (S$1,960) each.rrMr Soon says he spent more than RM20,000 on plants in the past year alone.rr"During the lockdown, people were at home thinking about how to beautify their homes," nursery owner Daud Kasim told AFP in Sungai Besar, 100 kilometres northwest of Kuala Lumpur.rr"They could look at these plants — and their stress would go away."rrAn avid collector himself, Mr Daud said he started selling keladi plants in late 2018 but demand exploded during the pandemic.rrNearly half of his nursery's inventory is now made up of such plants, with foreign varieties from countries such as Thailand, China, the United States and the Netherlands.rrStanding among thousands of potted specimens, Mr Daud said the trend was here to stay, even as authorities gradually begin lifting restrictions.rrMalaysia first imposed curbs last year shortly after the start of the pandemic and had to implement restrictions again in January when a new wave hit, but the outbreak is slowing.rrHealth authorities have reported more than 300,000 infections and over 1,000 deaths. AFPr
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